► Less extreme version of the Cup 320
► £85,600 in the UK
► Pure Lotus in character
Lotus reckons its all-new Sport 410 is ‘the ultimate roadgoing Exige’. This is all relative. The Exige remains Lotus’s most potent car, a tiny warhead of track day mayhem. The Sport 410 basically takes maximum Exige – the Cup 430 – and dials it back from 12 to 11.
Power and torque come down a little, downforce is reduced, the price drops £15,000 to £85,600 before options, and the six-stage traction control allowing a myriad of circuit slip angles is deleted. The key addition is a more road-biased chassis set-up, with the Cup 430’s three-way adjustable Nitron dampers given more scope to control spring compression to soften the ride.
Blare, gas and air: the sensations of the Sport 410
Unlike the fixed-head-only Cup 430, the Sport 410 can be specified as a roadster with a removable roof section. That’s the car we’re testing. Despite the on-road bias, don’t go thinking this Exige has turned into a Merc cabriolet: while they get Airscarf head restraints that duct warm air to your neck, the Lotus just buffets the back of your bonce with vortexes of air.
No matter: a press of the throttle and you’ll soon displace them, as your head jerks backwards with the 410’s rapacious thrust. Change up from second to third using the clackety stickshift with its exposed linkage, and if you time it to land in the meat of the V6’s torque band, there’s an elastic snap of thrust like being fired from a catapult, accompanied by the supercharger’s whine and the threshing of combustion. Factor in the rush of the wind and the sensation-packed 410 feels every bit as rapid as its 3.4sec blitz of the 0-62mph sprint suggests: this is the fastest roadster in Lotus history.
And it’s probably the loudest, with the optional titanium exhaust. Its £5500 cost is quite a chunk of change, even on an £86k sports car, but the furious blare from 4500rpm is something to behold. I’d be amazed if it passed circuit noise regulations though. Enthusiasts will probably forgive its motorway drone in sixth gear, especially in return for the hilarious gargle on the overrun in Sport mode: it rumbles even at 1500rpm in fourth around town.
A cushy Lotus for the road?
And rumble describes how the 410 rides: it’s a very physical experience. The entire car feels incredibly taut, from the bonded and riveted aluminium chassis to the spring and damper rates. You feel the full jolting force of potholes at 40mph, not because the suspension lacks finesse but because this is an uncompromising car designed to corner at incredible velocities.
And that’s exactly what it does, swooping through corners at speeds that make a mockery of the slow in/fast out mantra – it’s damn fast in, faster out. The revised front bumper and splitter, and the extended aluminium diffuser and contoured rear wing start generating downforce above 60mph, and summon 150kg of negative lift at v-max to push the Sport 410 into the road. Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres and the Exige’s low centre of gravity also help create a feeling of supreme stability.
This incredible stickiness is even more pronounced driving the coupe on the Hethel test track, whose outline resembles a bendy boomerang. The 180mph coupe locks onto the Andretti hairpin’s kerb, then you feed in more power to the resolute rear rubber: no drama, no fear of a pendulum effect sending you spinning.
A couple of curves later and the Sport 410 is powering up through third into fourth, through the Windsock kink between two straights that it takes absolutely effortlessly at three digit speeds, reassuring me it could go much, much faster – if I had the conviction. I’m more comfortable jumping on the four-piston calipers, which clamp the 332mm J-hook discs like a pitbull stopping a postman in his tracks.
What about the other Lotus staples, the steering, the cockpit?
The Exige Sport 410 delivers an incredible buzz of sensations, and at its heart is the unassisted steering. It naturally requires a hearty tug during parking manoeuvres, but once you get rolling it comes alive with lightness and feedback. The little wheel ducks and dives in your palms, swaying with the road’s camber, tugging towards the cats’ eyes you clip. Its precision makes the Exige Sport 410 a joyous car to pilot, delivering an ultra-sensitive connection with the tarmac just a few centimetres beneath your low-slung backside.
It’s enough to make you misty-eyed about the grand old days of driving, though the Exige’s cockpit reminds you of some of its compromises. There’s a tiny digital display which is largely indecipherable in daylight (who needs to know the fuel level…), and you still have to clamber across vast sills – beware of the carbon finish, which is easily scuffed.
The steering is barely adjustable, the slimline Alcantara and leather seats only travel fore and aft, and you’ll have to stump up another £1650 for a stereo and air-con. The Exige’s venerable age even allows you to bypass modern regulations and delete the driver’s airbag – strip away all such ‘luxuries’ and the Exige Sport 410 becomes the lightest V6 Exige ever, weighing 1054kg without fluids.
The Exige Sport 410 may be more road-biased than the norm, but that’s still a chimera: who buys a Lotus for its waftability? It’s about a one-dimensional driving experience that delivers maximum speed, grip, agility, feedback – and joy. The Sport 410 is a pure Lotus through and through, and an absolute blast to drive.